Monday, November 2, 2009

You Are Here

Almost twenty years ago, the spacecraft Voyager 1, having flown past the distant boundary of the solar system, was made to turn around in order to take a look back at the home it had left far behind. In the picture it took, Earth appears, from roughly four billion miles away, as a barely-discernible blue dot amid a vast sea of black.

For a while I sat and tried to figure out something smart, clever, or deep to say about this, but was essentially silenced by the enormity of empty space.1 So instead I’m just going to cop out, and simply reproduce here what astronomer and author Carl Sagan had to say about it.2 According to a page on, Sagan had to more or less badger NASA into turning Voyager around in the first place to take the photo, and I’m glad they listened:
Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there—on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.
Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.
It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”3

1. The marketing folks for Alien were right: in space, no one can hear you, uh, blog.
2. This blogging stuff is going to be easy if all I have to do is put down what other people say about things. I suppose I could pretend I’d written it all in the first place, but I’m not famous enough to get away with it, and I don’t have tenure.
3. Apologies if I’m using this text in violation of copyright. Believe me, I’m not making a cent off of it.


  1. I find it amusing that Sagan needed a picture from space millions of miles away to realize what the Bible has been saying for thousands of years (without the aid of a satilite). The answer has always been in this book and always will be in The Book.

    Good post...

  2. The universe is soooo connected... Read this from the Dalai Lama yesterday: "One of the most powerful visions I have experienced was the first photograph of the Earth from outer space. The image of a blue planet floating in deep space, glowing like the full moon on a clear night, brought home powerfully to me the recognition that we are indeed all members of a single family sharing one little house."